Thursday 28th Jun 2018
Office politics, workplace politics, corporate politics…you may refer to ‘politics at work’ by a different name, but by definition they all mean the same thing.
And whether you’re playing it, trying to avoid it or currently on the receiving end of it, all parties involved become distracted and lose sight of the common goal and purpose which brought you all together in the first place.
So how would I define office politics?
It’s the backstabbing from your boss or colleague…or
The sabotage of your work…or
The taking credit for your work…or
The undermining of your authority…or simply
The conversations taking place behind your back.
I’ve no doubt we’ve all personally experienced it or witnessed it at some point in our career. And we’re not the only ones.
According to research from recruiter Adecco, one third (33%) of UK workers cite office politics as a major contributing factor to feelings of unhappiness in the workplace and such negative feelings are having a significant impact on people’s working lives. Nearly a third (29%) of UK workers spend every Sunday dreading the coming working week and a worrying 28% of workers admit that they fear going into work so much that they have called in sick.
So, here’s my take on what should you know about office politics and more importantly how to deal with office politics.
The external market place and business arena is constantly changing, and as we know, the old rule book no longer applies. Changing dynamics in competitors; the digital revolution, new regulatory frameworks supported by new legislation (the list could go on) means business is tough enough…and that’s just looking through our external lens.
If you’re distracted by internal fighting, you lose sight of your common goal and purpose. If the leadership team or department heads or those involved in office politics are not on page what chance to the rest of the employees, or customers or strategic partners or key stakeholder groups have in understanding what you stand for. You’ve taken your eye of the ball and I can guarantee you, your competitors haven’t.
If everyone is aligned behind a common goal and purpose you can move mountains. In good times it can focus the business, reinforcing the goal and ambition; in touch times, it offers an inspirational focal point to keep pushing on, in the knowledge that together you’re pursuing a goal worth achieving.
Often office politics comes down to a leader building their own empire, and doing what it takes to make this happen. The Head of Marketing may be a wizard at his or her craft and produce high volumes of excellent work, but if he or she isn’t aligned to the needs of the sales force, it will ultimately work against them, rather than for them. If the Head of Operations has an excellent eye for back-end processing systems but fails to brief the customer service teams, the same thing applies.
Have you ever heard the saying ‘If you give someone enough rope, they’ll hang themselves’. If someone has the freedom to behave badly, he or she will eventually be found out. Either by their own doing or certainly by the output of their doing. This might mean you need to play the long game, but having in place strong governance and policies, key performance indicators and performance objectives will make it difficult for politically inspired decisions.
Culture is the central nervous system for your entire organisation. It sets the beliefs, attitude and values for all those working there. If workplace politics are rife and deemed as the norm, then it may simply come down to a cultural fit. And this culture might not be right for you. So my advice, make a sharp exit as it won’t change any time soon.
If on the hand, the organisations culture is being undermined by a handful of perpetrators then in my view, this has the biggest impact of all. Not least to the parties directly involved, but on a wider scale as employees, not directly impacted, stand back, observe the actions and wait to see the consequences.
Clearly if politically driven behaviours which are not congruent with the organisations culture are dealt with, then all is good in the world. The challenge occurs when these types of de-railing behaviours are not dealt with. The central nervous system of the organisation takes a hit and the ramifications can be far reaching; reduced moral, demotivated employees, decrease in productivity, employee attrition…you get my point.
Being on the receiving end of office politics can lead to stress, anxiety, depression, anger, resentment. Whilst this emotional vacuum is gradual, it is very real. Adecco’s research cited an additional third of UK workers (36%) would consider leaving their employer due to such severe anxiety and more worryingly, one in ten (9%) have already taken that step due to such overwhelming feelings of unhappiness.
Once you acknowledge your personal emotional wellbeing is on an equal footing to your capability to perform your role, you understand it’s the energy source powering your performance. When it’s low, your performance is low.
So what do you do?
You dig down and dig deep. The reality is sometimes in life you don’t realise how much resilience you actually have until you are tested. There are many arguments as to what makes one individual more resilient than the next, and in my experience it comes down to three key ingredients; a unique ability to confront reality head on, an unwavering belief that life is purposeful and an uncanny ability to improvise and adapt.
Boosting your resilience will help you navigate the political arena before it spirals out of control.
Office politics ultimately benefits no-one. Even the individual who thinks they are benefitting.
The power is in the ‘whole’ aligned and working together towards building a high performing organisation.